Peace Be With You

The Rev. Becky McDaniel. This sermon is based on John 20:19-23.

The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are gathered, and they are afraid. Jesus appears among them and offers peace; he offers peace and breathes on them. In this brief passage, Jesus says “Peace be with you” twice, and he says it again, a third time, in the passage just after this one as he encounters Thomas and asks him to place his fingers in his side. The disciples are afraid, and Jesus comforts them.

We are afraid right now. Throughout our world, doors are locked for fear of the other. In some places guns are loaded for fear of the other. If we are aware of all that is happening each day in this world, of course we are afraid. But the truth is, the state of constant fear and its accompanying survival mode breeds violence. If our bodies constantly hold fear and anxiety then we are quick to react in ways that harm others as well as ourselves. We lose the ability to listen to one another, especially those who are different from us, because we have become so afraid of our differences. So here we are as a culture, doors locked and guns loaded, for fear of the other. We are so bound up in fear that we cannot feel the breath of God being breathed upon us. We cannot hear the voice of Jesus saying “Peace be with you, peace be with you, peace be with you.”

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the anatomy and physiology of breathing, but I think that if we can understand the breath then we can better understand the Holy Spirit, and we can better understand the peace of God, although we remember that God’s peace in the end surpasses all understanding.

What we do know is this: breath is life. We live because we breathe, and scripture tells us that in the beginning God breathed into man so that he would become a living soul. But let’s take a deeper look: God exhaled. God breathed out. Jesus exhaled. Jesus breathed out. There is life in the exhalation; there is peace in the exhalation. It is not just breathing in that gives us life; there is a necessary exchange that gives us life. We know this about plant life and human life, and it is also true of the divine life.

So what I want to offer today is a deeper understanding of this exhalation. To exhale is to let go, to make room to receive, to release fear, and to open oneself to the divine exchange. I have spent part of this year working with some of you on the power of the exhalation. We have explored the inner workings of the nervous system, how when we exhale longer than we inhale it activates the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, carrying us into a state of deep relaxation rather than heightened worry and fear. Those of us who chant know this instinctively, because to chant one must exhale for much longer than he or she inhales, and the result is a deep sense of peace. Monks and nuns hold a peaceful energy not just because of the vows that they take but also because of the alignment of their bodies, minds and spirits in the practices that they do.

Body and breath are who we are. Jesus came to us in human form, in a body. Jesus exhaled to offer peace. In this time of heightened anxiety and fear, we are called to remember our bodies, to remember our breath. We are called not only to receive the Holy Spirit, but to share it, to enter the divine exchange. And we cannot receive God’s peace until we are able to let go of our fear and clinging.

In this moment, I invite you to pay attention. Feel your own breath, your life, moving in this divine exchange. Allow your exhalations to linger just a little bit longer than the inhalations. And as you breathe out, repeat silently as you envision those you love and more importantly those you fear, “Peace be with you, peace be with you, peace be with you.”

You may begin by envisioning someone you love. “Peace be with you, peace be with you, peace be with you.”

Now envision someone you fear, someone who threatens your very life. “Peace be with you, peace be with you, peace be with you.”

Jesus asks us to pray for our enemies. We do this best by offering peace. Through the divine exchange of the Holy Spirit, may we go forth as beacons of peace in this often terrifying world, remembering our breath, and sharing the deep peace of the Holy Spirit. Amen.